What to look for when buying a youngster

A young horse is a rewarding investment if you’re willing to put the time in

When you buy a young horse, you buy potential. The only thing a young horse can offer is his conformation, temperament and bloodline. Some young horses will be further along in their schooling and may even have gone to their first training show by the time you go and see him, but at the end of the day the young horse is still inexperienced and likely to change as he grows up. While you can’t possibly have the full picture when you see a young horse for the first time, you can look for signs that can give you a better idea of what you’re buying into.

Your needs

Very important when buying a young horse are your own personal intentions and motivations for buying the horse. The idea of producing a horse from scratch is also more enticing to some riders. Think of where you are in your riding and what your intentions are for the horse down the line. For example, if you’re an amateur rider looking at a four-year-old and you want to be competing in 1.20m showjumping in a year, then your expectations are very unrealistic.

Young horses develop at their own pace, so bear in mind that certain benchmarks may move in the timeline. Some horses train very quickly whereas others are slower to mature physically and mentally. If you’re wanting something you can get going on immediately, then a young horse is not suitable. A young horse is also not much of a confidence-giver, so don’t consider one if you’re a nervous or inexperienced rider.

As much as they may be cheaper, they are challenging projects and you may be better off saving for a few more months so that you can buy an older and more established horse. Young horses are also unpredictable in the way they will turn out and you won’t want to risk the disappointment if things don’t go to plan.

 Iron out the basics

As mentioned, a young horse doesn’t have too much to offer from a riding and experience perspective. You’ll likely base your decision to buy on the horse’s breed, bloodlines, conformation, size if it matters to you, and general temperament. You can easily ask the owner for all the information about the horse’s breeding and history. If you’re hoping for the horse to grow up to be a serious competition prospect, a picture is worth a thousand words, so ask the seller for photos of the horse’s profile, front legs and hind legs. Make sure that the seller has stood the horse square in the photo, and that the photo has been taken straight on and not at a tilted angle. A photo can show if the horse has any obvious conformation faults, and can give you an idea of his proportion.


Breeding can give you an idea of what the horse’s way of going, temperament and success might be

Breeding is of paramount importance when it comes to choosing a prospective competition horse. Proven bloodlines are an indication of the type of potential you’re buying into. Some lines are notorious for a certain type of conformation or temperament, and breeding to certain horses is intended to correct any unwanted qualities. A horse’s breeding can give you an idea of what the horse’s way of going and temperament will be as well as what discipline they might succeed in. At the same time, breeding is only an indication of what the horse may become. Some horses don’t live up to their expectations and the averagely-bred horse can go on to compete at the highest level.


Bad conformation is unwanted and often a deal breaker when it comes to a young horse, depending on what the fault is. This is because it’s too early in the horse’s life to know if it will affect him, whereas you will know if a going horse with a conformation fault is coping or not. Some horses manage to compete at top level and a buyer will take the horse despite a dismal vet inspection.

Certain conformation faults are an indication of weakness, which means a horse might struggle with things like advanced dressage movements or tackling bigger jumps. The importance of conformation also depends on your intentions for the horse. If you’re just aiming to be a recreational rider and not compete seriously, you won’t be as concerned about faulty conformation as the competitive rider.

Conformation indications to look out for

The full article appears in the Young Horse Guide issue (May HQ122) > Shop now

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